Writing Excuses Transcripts

because words are smart!

Writing Excuses 12.16: Writing Crime Fiction with Brian Keene
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Writing Excuses 12.16: Writing Crime Fiction with Brian Keene

From http://www.writingexcuses.com/2017/04/16/12-16-writing-crime-fiction-with-brian-keene/

Key Points: Crime fiction is hard to classify. Try bad things happening to people. Crime fiction, like any fiction, is for entertainment. The reader empathizes with characters they should not be empathizing with, and wonders why. Good crime fiction makes you feel uncomfortable. Normal human beings in terrible situations, and how they react, and how you as a reader react. How do you get people to empathize with the wrong people? Remember that they are people, too. Put that character in a very bad situation and see how they react. Research -- talk to people! Tell them "I am an author" and then ask questions. Get the reader to empathize with the character, then write the ending that fits. Be aware that readers have their own expectations, too.

Who shot the sheriff?Collapse )

[Howard] We are past out of time.
[Brian] I'm sorry.
[Howard] No, that's okay.
[Dan] We just loved listening to you and your words here. So, you said you had a writing exercise to throw out our audience?
[Brian] Sure. This week, instead of… Regardless of what genre you're writing, write something different. If you're writing romance, sit down and experiment with horror. If you're writing horror, sit down and experiment with a western. You don't even need to complete the story. But just work on it half an hour every day for this week, and focus on the character. When you're done, see if you can take that character and put it into the genre you're working on. It's a character building exercise.
[Dan] Cool.
[Brian] I think what you'll find is that regardless of genre, what matters are the characters you're crafting.
[Dan] I love it.
[Howard] Outstanding. Brian, thank you again for joining us.
[Brian] Thank you guys.
[Howard] Fair listener, you are out of excuses. Now go write.
[Brian] Go write.

Writing Excuses 12.15: Pacing with Chapters
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Writing Excuses 12.15: Pacing with Chapters

From http://www.writingexcuses.com/2017/04/09/12-15-pacing-with-chapters/

Key points: Chapters are not short stories! Intermissions, and chapter breaks, let you frame a scene. Chapter breaks are like the Vs on the ground in racing games, they zip you forward into the next chapter, boosting momentum. Changing points of view, passage of time, all these may need a break. Chapter breaks are good for pacing. Breaks when we have unfinished arcs or business pull you forward. If you don't want the reader to put your book down, use lead ins or hooks to pull them forward. But in big books, you may want to let the reader take a break. Give them a break, but also give them a reason to come back. Chapter breaks can reset the scene, move to another point of view, frame a scene. Sometimes you want thriller pacing, with mini-cliffhangers pulling readers forward and short chapters. Sometimes you don't. Chapters are about time passing, while scenes are emotional arcs. In big books, chapters end with something accomplished or discovered. In shorter books, chapters may end with smaller turning points or steps. Scenes are in a place, accomplishing a goal. A time, a place, a point of view, those define a scene. Chapters are for pacing. Also for emphasis -- the last thing in a chapter gets attention!
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[Brandon] Unfortunately, we are out of time on this episode, but, Mary Anne, you have some homework for us.
[Mary Anne] I do. I actually have two parts of homework. Part one is, I think the book that was most useful to me in thinking about scene and tension and interruption was Italo Calvino's book If On A Winter's Night A Traveler, which is this short little book translated into English from the Italian, where he starts a story, he gets to a tense point, the chapter ends, you turn to the next chapter, he started a completely different story. But you get caught up in it, so you keep reading, you're a little frustrated, you get to the end of the chapter, and then the third chapter, he's done it again. He does this over and over and over again, for about 12 chapters, I think. It's really useful to look at like reader frustration and satisfaction. So I just recommend reading that. The other thing is that when I was first reading Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, it kept me up until four in the morning. I could not put the book down. It was the first book in probably a decade that had done that for me. I wanted to know why. So I sat down and I looked at it. It was actually what Mary Robinette was talking about earlier. What she does is she gives you this problem of Harry want the letters that are being delivered, and the problem keeps escalating, there are more and more and more letters. By the end of the chapter, we have… She's solved that problem, you've delivered the letters and you know it's an invitation to Hogwarts, but she's already started the problem of they're not going to let him go. That's what takes you into chapter 2. She does that through the entire book. So my homework is to find a book that you love that you can't put down, and look at what did the author do to put you in that position.
[Wesley] Let me add to that. Find a book that you hate, but you can't stop reading.
[Brandon] Ooooooo! There are so many of these.
[Wesley] Figure out why, even though you hate the book, you just keep turning the pages to see what's going on.
[Brandon] That's a great addition. All right, guys. You… Are out of excuses, now go write.

Writing Excuses 12.14: Controlling Pacing With Structure
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Writing Excuses 12.14: Controlling Pacing With Structure

From http://www.writingexcuses.com/2017/04/03/12-14-controlling-pacing-with-structure/

Key Points: Pacing can be having more stuff happen, fulfilling promises more quickly. But it can also be structural, the form of the sentences, paragraphs, and chapters. Punctuation and paragraphing. Shape. Things. Comma, 1, period, 2, paragraph, 3. Pause. Lots of short sentences, faster breathing. No punctuation just running away -- a different kind of excitement. But sometimes, a long sentence will read faster than a bunch of short ones. Length of sentence. Paragraphing. Be careful of overuse, but a one sentence paragraph can drive a point home. Pacing reflects the character's experience. Watch the transitions between dialogue and narrative, which have their own pacing. Dialogue often embodies conflict. Beware overusing character beats -- trust the dialogue to be the focus. Sometimes what you don't say is more important than the dialogue. Let the readers fill in. Often we start a dialogue section with a quick zoom in, a little specific detail that tunes us in.
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[Brandon] We are out of time for this podcast. Turned out to be super interesting. I'm going to give you some homework. I want you to take a piece of your writing, and I want you to revise it without changing a word. I want you to change the punctuation in the paragraphing, only. I want you to try to go both ways. Make things shorter, make things longer. Play with it. See what it does to have a whole bunch of single sentence paragraphs. See what it does to mash it all together. See what happens if you split some of your sentences into fragments, and put the other fragments later on… Or not later on, but on the next paragraph. Things like that. See what it does. Play with this. Learn to master this tool. This has been Writing Excuses. You're out of excuses, now go write.

Writing Excuses 12.13: Beautiful Prose, Purple Prose
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Writing Excuses 12.13: Beautiful Prose, Purple Prose

From http://www.writingexcuses.com/2017/03/26/12-13-beautiful-prose-purple-prose/

Key points: "We're all purple on occasion, it's a guilty pleasure for a lot of us." What's the problem? Patches of purple prose in an otherwise normal story that breaks the flow. Good writing in the wrong place. Overuse of bad metaphors, fancy long words, and thesaurizing! Avoiding it? Take a fresh look, or let someone else read it. Watch beginnings of books or chapters, where we often overdo things and try too hard. Instead of two paragraphs on 20 foot stilts, try elevating all your prose a couple of inches. Metaphors are better than similes. Watch the adverbs and adjectives -- use the right ones, don't overdo. Adverbs often mean compressed storytelling -- expand it! Replace verb and adverb with a better verb. Think about the story purpose behind your description. Be judicious, use expressive prose where you need an impact. Use purple prose, especially in dialogue, to set a character apart.

Across the purple sage, the golden sunset gleamed...Collapse )

[Brandon] We're going to go ahead, and we're going to pitch at Howard some homework to us.
[Howard] I'm pitching the homework at them.
[Brandon] Okay.
[Howard] All right. One of the writing rules that is so often read to us is "Put away the thesaurus. Just write using your words." Here's your homework. Take a paragraph that you've written. Get out the thesaurus. Replace as many of the words in that paragraph as you can. Break it. Painted so purple that the color purple feels ashamed to have its name associated with it. Just go overboard. Then take a step back and look at it. Ask yourself why it broke. Sometimes, the way to figure out how something is broken is to deliberately go too far. This is your excuse to take it too far.
[Brandon] Excellent. That sounds like a lot of fun, actually.
[Dan] I look forward to reading all of those, on the website.
[Brandon] Yeah. Post those for us. We want to read those.
[Piper] Yes.
[Brandon] This has been Writing Excuses.… Oh. You know what? What if they took paragraphs from our writing?
[Dan] Oh, yes! Oh that's brilliant.
[Piper] Do that!
[Dan] You can do your own, but if you want to take something from one of our books…
[Laughter]
[Dan] Please.
[Piper] Anything by Piper J. Drake. I would love to see you take a paragraph of one of my things. Preferably one of the PG-rated scenes.
[Laughter]
[Dan] If you can take something, say that you've broken it, and it's actually just verbatim, and you can trick people, that would be fantastic.
[Piper] Yes. I want to see this. Please do.
[Brandon] Okay. Oh, this is going to be awesome.
[Howard] Okay. This is supposed to be homework, not a social media game.
[Brandon] Okay, okay. You're out of excuses. Now go write.

Writing Excuses 12.12: Words as Words, with Linda Addison
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Writing Excuses 12.12: Words as Words, with Linda Addison

From http://www.writingexcuses.com/2017/03/19/12-12-words-as-words-with-linda-addison/

Key Points: Picking the exact right word, for the shape, sound, visual space, as an object unto itself, independent of meaning. Taste your words, feel them, find the rhythm, the breaks. "Poetry is to be read like a fine meal or a fine wine, one sip at a time." Journals! Write down anything and everything, then go back and pull out words and ideas and feelings. Write stories and turn them into poems. Write poems and create stories out of them. Take words out. Change words. Read them out loud. Create a startling image. Change hard and soft words, or sibilants and bebop. Take out the most important word, and let the reader put their own ideas, their own breath, their own emotion in there. Play with the rhythms of poetry, to learn them. Make them an unconscious rhythm that you can draw on. Poetry, like music, is organic and normal. It's the cadence of storytelling around the fire. Whether you want to write poetry or something else, pay attention to word choice, the music of words, and to words as words.

Iambic pentameter and blank poetry?Collapse )

[Dan] So, you said that you had a little writing prompt to throw at us at the end?
[Linda] Always. I mean, it may be something I end up building my life poem on today, because I haven't done it yet, but it's four words. I would suggest playing with something that starts "Driving through the tears."
[Dan] I like it. All right. So there's your writing prompt, dear listeners. You are out of excuses. Now go write.

Writing Excuses 12.11: Diction
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Writing Excuses 12.11: Diction

From http://www.writingexcuses.com/2017/03/12/12-11-diction/

Key points: Diction, word choice, how do you pick the right word? Don't try too hard while you are writing. Fix it in revision. What does this sentence mean, why is it here? Make it more specific. Don't go overboard! Make sure you use the word with the right meaning. Keep a list. Watch for terminology. Think about simplicity versus more specificity. What's important for the character? Don't let the experts bury you. Lyrical, easy to say out loud. Watch emphasis! Unintentional alliteration and rhymes can make it hard to read. Is your style transparent, windowpane prose, or something more stylized? [Bracket] overused words to help with revision. Limit your favorite phrases. Use text-to-speech to listen to your prose.

Watch those darling words...Collapse )

[Brandon] Now I will say that we're doing an entire podcast coming up later this month on how to write beautiful prose. So I'm going to cap this session here. I'm going to let Mary give us some homework on diction.
[Mary] Right. So, what we've been talking about is how to choose the right word, and the area of intention, and all of these things. So what I'm going to ask you to do is to take something that you have recently written and go through… We're just going to look at dialogue on this one, just to make it easy on you. I say easy. Mwahaha. As an exercise, what I want you to do is, I want you to replace all of the dialogue, and you're not allowed to use any of the existing words in those sentences. This is to force you to think about what these sentences actually mean. I will grant you that you are allowed to use the articles and the prepositions, but no verbs, no nouns. The only ones that I'm going to allow you are like names or a MacGuffin that is very specific to that world. Otherwise, I want you to replace every single word and get deep into why you are picking that word.
[Mary Anne] Can I just add one more quick exercise?
[Brandon] Yes. Go for it.
[Mary Anne] My students love this one. It's so frustrating. You write a scene in sentences that are all seven words or less. Then you write the same scene in one long sentence. It's really good for making you think about sentence structure. It's super frustrating trying to write in seven words or less sentences. Which is good for you.
[Brandon] Okay. This has been Writing Excuses. You're out of excuses. Now go write.

Writing Excuses 12.10: Developing Your Own, Personal Style
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Writing Excuses 12.10: Developing Your Own, Personal Style

From http://www.writingexcuses.com/2017/03/05/12-10-developing-your-own-personal-style/

Key Points: Voice or style comes in three flavors: mechanical, aesthetic, and personal. We need to learn to trust our personal style. But don't worry about it? You probably won't know you have it, even if everyone else can see it. When you try to mimic someone else's style, you mostly mimic aesthetic voice. Personal voice is in part word choice, but beyond that, what you choose to talk about and how you talk about it. Even a transparent or translucent prose style can be a personal style! Overriding copyeditors may be part of your personal style. But beware of overrunning character styles with your personal style.
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[Brandon] Dan, you have our homework this week.
[Dan] Yes. So, one of the ways that you can start to identify what your own voice is, is to take something written by somebody else, and… Ideally, this would be something you don't like. So a book that you didn't really enjoy or whatever. Because you want to fix it. It feels wrong to you, it feels awkward. I want you to take that, and then rewrite it, and rewrite it in a way, going back to what Mary was saying earlier, where the main character is you, or someone very like you. Someone from your background. To make sure that it is really your voice coming through, in the narration or the dialogue or however you want to do it. Then, once you've done that rewrite, you'll have a chance to see, "Oh, that obviously came from me, because it wasn't in the original."

[Mary] So, hey. I just wanted to add one thing that we skimmed past in this episode. We mentioned the #ownvoices movement and we didn't actually explain what that was. The #ownvoices movement is a movement that was begun with a hashtag started by Corinne Duyvis... Duyvis, excuse me. The idea was that people who have a lived life experience… That if you're looking for a book about a disabled person, that you should buy a book that's written by a disabled person. If you're looking for a book about an African-American person, you should buy a book written by an African-American person. And that sometimes people can get displaced because it's very easy to just buy a book by an author that you're familiar with. So the idea was that you get a more authentic experience if you are reading a book that is written by someone in their own voice. I felt like I did want to just explain where that movement came from, and you should actually read some more about it. Just searching on the hashtag #ownvoices will give you a lot of information. Just wanted to share that with you.

[Brandon] This has been Writing Excuses. You're out of excuses, now go write.

Writing Excuses 12.9: Q&A on Viewpoint
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Writing Excuses 12.9: Q&A on Viewpoint

From http://www.writingexcuses.com/2017/02/26/12-9-qa-on-viewpoint/

Q&A Summary:
Q: Third person omniscient is generally the norm in most fantasy/sci-fi. Do you have any ideas, tips, tricks to make this voice more interesting or unusual?
A: Give the narrator a personality, characterization.
Q: How can you make [third person] limited more interesting?
A: Make the character sing. It's not the viewpoint, it's the character.
Q: It usually takes me a few drafts/revisions to really nail down a character's voice. Is this normal for most writers? Any tips on how to discover it in other ways?
A: If it's working for you, don't break it! Try writing a quick scene that is pivotal and important to your character. Sample scenes, monologues, conversation, job interviews. Don't be afraid to throwaway writing. Let the character talk so you can figure out who they are.
Q: What is the most effective way to portray an unreliable third limited viewpoint in which the reader can still know what is actually happening?
A: Why do you have an unreliable narrator? To fool the audience? Dramatic irony, where we know something the character does not? Establish that this is the character's personality, they think one thing, even though something else is really happening.
Q: How does one thoroughly immerse themselves in a setting/person? I know it's very subjective, but what are the most effective methods you have found in feeling, for example, when a pregnant woman, a pious man, or a lost child might feel? It's so far eludes me.
A: Meditation, guided imagery. Primary sources! Find forums where people are sharing trials and experiences, and get the things people gripe about right. Method acting for writers – feel it yourself, then write.
Q: How do you choose between first and third person? What's your process? When you're preparing a story, how do you make that final decision?
A: Is the story about plot or character? If it's about character, do it first person. Check your genre – adult romance usually is third, YA first person. How can you best express the characters? Try a writing sample, a quick scene or paragraph, to see which works best.
Q: How do you pick the right character for a viewpoint in a scene? How do you choose whose eyes you're going to see through?
A: Who is in the most pain? Who's most interesting? Who has the highest stakes, the most emotional response? Who's going to be doing the most, whose protagging the most? What do you like to write?
Q: I'm writing my first novel. How do I choose to do first person, third person, it's overwhelming. I could do omniscient, I could do non-omniscient, how do I make this decision?
A: Which POV makes the words flow for you? First novel, just write it. Spot check along the way, "Is this still working for me?" If so, keep going. If not, try a test scene in another perspective and see if that works better. What do you want to accomplish? Grand in scope, lots of different characters, third might work better. But first and foremost, finish the book.
Q: I have a problem with transitioning between voices. A.k.a. How do you know when to cut, how do you smoothly transition from one viewpoint character to another, how do you do a chapter break, do you sometimes not do a chapter break, how do you decide this?
A: End on a phrase that resonates with the reader, that's impactful, and makes them want to keep reading. Look at the first line of the next scene, make sure the reader knows whose head they're in as quickly as possible. Beware the garden path sentence, where the reader doesn't know whose head they are in until they turn the corner. End on a zinger, something awesome to say goodbye to that character for a while. Answer a question, raise a new question, resolve a package. Give emotional closure.
Q: My characters start to sound less distinct the further in my story I get. How do you keep this from happening?
A: Give each character a high concept that's evolving out of the consequences of previous acts, along with a dialogue tic that's a result of the consequences. Check prepositional phrases and three syllable words to see if your characters are all using the same ones. Visual and verbal tics work because they remind you, the writer, who the character is. Remember the character's passion.

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[Brandon] I'm going to call it here. We have so many questions. I'm sorry we didn't get to them all. But, Piper has some homework for us.
[Piper] Oh, I do. My brain just died. I'm so sorry. So, my homework for you is to take dialogue, not narrative, dialogue, and take the characters who were involved in the dialogue… Probably works better with two or three, just a limited number of people in the dialogue, and swap them. So character A might say one thing, character B might say another. Now swap them, and how would character B say that first line, and how would character A respond?
[Brandon] Excellent. I really like that writing exercise. This has been Writing Excuses, you're out of excuses, now go write.

Writing Excuses 12.8: Short Stories As Exploration, with Tananarive Due
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Writing Excuses 12.8: Short Stories As Exploration, with Tananarive Due

From http://www.writingexcuses.com/2017/02/19/12-8-short-stories-as-exploration-with-tananarive-due/

Key points: Try using short fiction to explore something you want to practice. Point of view, characterization, balancing dialogue and exposition -- quick, no big investment if it fails. Use short fiction to "discover who you are as a writer without getting lost wandering in the woods." Think of short fiction as your sketchbook, a place to experiment and push the limits. Don't worry about writing salable short fiction. Use short fiction to practice technique in isolation. Like doing sprints for a football player. Use monologues to meet your characters, short stories to describe a setting or try out a style. Pick an aspect of craft and focus on that single aspect. Start by reading short stories, anthologies, collections, and see what the possibilities are. Short fiction tends to be tightly focused, with a small cast and fewer plot threads. Use short fiction to get extra ideas out of your system, as a quick refresher. Find the turning point in your novel, and write a short story about it.

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[Brandon] That's… That's going to be our homework for this episode. I want you to do that. Take a story you've written and find a short story in it. Or the story you're planning and find a short story in it. Because we are, actually, out of time. I really want to thank Tananarive for being on… I said it right, though.
[Howard] It's Tananarive.
[Brandon] It's Tahnahnah, not Tanana. You told me don't say Tanana.
[Tananarive] I said it would be okay.
[Brandon] Okay. You were very gracious. But we want to thank Tananarive very much for being on the podcast. Thank you so much.
[Tananarive] My pleasure. Thank you all.
[Brandon] This has been Writing Excuses. You're out of excuses. Now go write.

Writing Excuses 12.7: Description Through the Third Person Lens
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Writing Excuses 12.7: Description Through the Third Person Lens

From http://www.writingexcuses.com/2017/02/12/12-7-description-through-the-third-person-lens/

Key Points: Learn to let the character's voice, thoughts, and feelings come through when describing, especially in third person. Combine characterization and description! Get specific with what the character notices and does. Pay attention to what they notice, and what they miss. Describe the small things, let the reader imagine the large things. Focus indicates thought -- what the character sees, what they hear. Exercise: try and include every sense in a scene. But don't spend too long! And beware going overboard on all the senses all the time -- no one licks a vase. Add your infodumps in third person to emotion, action, dialogue -- dribble them across a scene. Pick out the important information and avoid the irrelevant infodump. Losing viewpoint? Check the emotional investment in the scene. Make sure you have the right scene. What happens when the main character knows something, but doesn't let the reader know? Frustration! Use focus, something else compelling to keep the main character going, and sometimes, it's just background for the character, no matter how surprising it is for the reader. Or... give the reader the information! Often knowing the secret makes the action more compelling. Or make that other plan a contingency. Think surprising, yet inevitable.

The third person thinker?Collapse )

[Brandon] We are out of time. Mary Anne, you were going to give us some homework?
[Mary Anne] Well, I was just going to say that I love Ursula Le Guin's book, Steering the Craft. It's a very short little how-to-write book. She's got like three chapters with exercises on various variations of third person that I find really helpful. I still… I assign it every semester and I do them again with my students every semester. I get something out of it every time.
[Brandon] Well, excellent. That is your homework. Go read some Ursula Le Guin. You will always find it time well spent, I have found. This has been Writing Excuses. You're out of excuses. Now go write.

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